“Living Dead” is Alive with Zombies and Social Commentary

If you love zombies, blood, and horror with social commentary then this is the play for you. 

Review by Ariel Mary Ann

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company recently opened their world premiere production of The Living Dead written by Cincinnati’s own Isaiah Reeves. Inspired by the classic George A. Romero and John A. Russo film, this play offers a twist on an iconic film loved by horror fans across generations.

When we envision the art form of theatre and storytelling, horror isn’t the first thing that comes to mind but if The Living Dead proves anything, it’s that this genre can be a vehicle to challenge the status quo and bring to light the things we don’t say out loud.

The Plot

The play follows a Black queer man, Ben (played by Darnell Pierre Benjamin) as he navigates what becomes a zombie outbreak where recently deceased corpses are being reanimated looking for only one thing – human flesh. 

At the top of show, we find Ben and his boyfriend, Duane (played by Adrian Devaughn Summers) in their car enjoying each other’s company when a sudden zombie attack leaves Ben rushing to find safety. Right at that moment, we shift from the opening car scene to a house where our protagonist takes refuge.

We soon find out he’s not the only one hiding from the undead. Slowly we’re introduced to Barbara (played by Courtney Lucien), Helen (played by Kelly Mengelkoch), Helen’s husband – Harold (played by Jim Hopkins), and Helen and Harold’s children – Tommy (played by Charles Gidney) and Ava (played by Annabel Phillips). As the action unfolds, you start to see the clashing personalities of these characters as they try to escape this nightmare of epic portions. 

Reeves’ writing will leave you on the edge of your seat wanting to know what happens next. By juxtaposing the reality of being a Black queer man in America with a zombie outbreak, he leaves the audience with a lingering question… what’s scarier? zombies or being a Black queer person trapped in a house with an oblivious white family and a white woman who wants to prove she’s down for the cause?  

Benjamin’s performance as Ben could easily be considered a masterclass in acting with the way he cycles through so many emotions over a span of 85 minutes never staying emotionally stagnant. Burgess Byrd as Nana does a phenomenal job operating as Ben’s consciousness. She pushes him to survive, not only the outbreak but the white family he’s trapped with reminding him that if he’s going to go down then he had better put up a fight first.

Reeves dives deep into politics humorously highlighting how conservatives will disregard dangerous situations if it means they can prove someone wrong. In many ways, it felt like an allegory to the early days of the Covid 19 pandemic.  

Samantha Reno, as scenic designer, developed such a strong set and has a good eye for even the smallest of details. Brian Isaac Phillips, director, brings it all together.

Bottom Line

Overall, this is a play you don’t want to miss this Halloween season. If you love zombies, blood, and horror with social commentary then this is the play for you.  The Living Dead by Isaiah Reeves runs until October 29th. Tickets can be found here.  

Note: This show runs approximately 85 minutes with no intermission

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